The War Against Nipples

December 31, 2008

What a weird culture we live here in North America.  So much advertising is about, or uses, sex as a sales strategy — which in simple terms means good looking women wearing few clothes and preferably with a deep and well-rounded cleavage;  women’s breasts are to modern marketing what “god” is to religions.  And yet, at the merest suggestion of a nipple, the cultural warriors ride in on their chargers screaming about pornography and obscenity.

These musings were inspired by a Time magazine article entitled “Facebook’s War On Nipples“.   It appears that everyone’s favourite social networking empire has decreed that any image displaying part or all of a female nipple is prima facie obscene.  It has arbitrarily removed a lot of pictures — to the loud chagrin of some well-organised groups.   Not the least of these organizations is the Facebook group called “Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!” which had 85,000 members by year’s end and arranged the simultaneous uploading of 11,000 breastfeeding images to Facebook last Saturday.


For me it is the simplest of issues:  Censorship is censorship and has to be challenged constantly and decisively.   I agree with Paul Rapoport, coordinator for the Topfree Equal Rights Association (TERA):  “[Facebook’s] policy clearly implies that visible nipples or areolas always make photos of women obscene. Facebook stigmatizes breast-feeding and demeans women.”

But the two cultural issues that fascinate me most are hypocrisy and self-reference.

The hypocrisy is implicit in my first paragraph:  We use sex everywhere to sell everything, and yet we wield a big stick if it goes “too far”.  One example was the ludicrous fine levied by the FCC because a Janet Jackson nipple may have been exposed for a fraction of a second on TV — only noticeable to a viewer who was already staring at her breasts at the exact time it happened.  The cultural hypocrisy was doubled in that case because for months afterward, it was hard to watch a TV show or read a magazine without seeing close-ups of the offending moment, sometimes with large red arrows in case we missed the point.

As for the self-referential nature of a Facebook group being used to hammer Facebook, it is so perfectly post-modern that I could weep.